Rapid fire

By By Tony Pizza

By Tony Pizza

The Colorado Rapids (10-10-5) captured the second annual Rocky Mountain Cup and took sole possession of fourth place in the Western Conference standings with 1-0 victory over rival Real Salt Lake (9-12-5) on Saturday.

Several on-field and off-field incidents overshadowed Colorado’s win and further soured the already volatile relationship between the two teams.

There was physical play in the first half, but both teams kept it clean. However, it did not take long for the game to get chippy in the second half.

Colorado scored the match’s only goal in the 48th minute when Dan Gargan floated a cross from the right side and connected with Nicholas Hernandez’s head. Hernandez flicked the ball into the goal, giving Colorado a 1-0 lead.

Seconds later, RSL goaltender Scott Garlick sprinted out of the box to confront a Colorado player. Garlick seemed to knock the Colorado player down and began pointing to a spot where RSL midfielder Mehdi Ballouch was still lying.

Before Colorado began its attack that resulted in the goal, Ballouchy went down to the ground and stayed there for several seconds before Colorado got in a position to score. Although it is not a rule, it is an international custom of good sportsmanship in soccer for either team to stop play by sending the ball out of bounds when a player is injured. This act of sportsmanship is exhibited throughout the world on every level of soccer, but the Rapids did not put it into practice.

“I think some of our players did stop, thinking Colorado would just knock the ball out of bounds. All I can say is that we were naive to think that’s what was going to happen. We still have to play.” RSL head coach John Ellinger said.

Garlick was fortunate to only receive a yellow card, as it could have easily been a red card ejection. The incident, however, did set the tone for the rest of the match.

Six yellow cards were handed out after the Colorado goal. Two were handed out to Colorado in the 89th minute when Dan Gargan made a reckless and potentially dangerous tackle on Jeff Cunningham. Ballouchy responded by bumping Gargan for the tough tackle, which began a shoving and jarring match between the two rivals. Order was restored with Gargan and Colorado forward Thiago Martins receiving yellow-card cautions.

“During the game, emotions were high, tempers were flaring, and I think there were two or three incidents on the field. It’s definitely a rivalry, but for us, we have allowed them to come in three times to our stadium and walk away with wins. That’s just unacceptable,” Ellinger said.

Unlike most matches, the final whistle did not signal the end of the action. At the end of the game, Colorado captain Pablo Mastroeni took off his shirt, stuffed it down his pants, and began making obscene gestures toward the RSL faithful. Fans did not take kindly to the gestures and a few of them began throwing objects at Mastroeni.

“We hate seeing them celebrate on our field, in front of our fans. I don’t like the way they were taunting our fans, but it’s up to the players on this team to defend the fans that support us, and that starts with us playing well enough and getting the result to prevent the opponent from even having a reason to celebrate in our stadium and in front of our fans,” Ellinger said.

RSL owner David Checketts also took offense to Mastroeni’s actions and he confronted Mastroeni near the locker rooms. The exchange was heated, but no punches were thrown. Mastroeni had to be restrained by three Colorado players before the situation cooled down.

“I am both outraged and embarrassed that players in this league-especially a World Cup star like Pablo Mastroeni-would engage in obscene behavior towards our fans, and am dismayed that no one from the Colorado organization was present tonight to discourage such boorish behavior,” Checketts said in a team statement after the game.

Colorado came into Rice-Eccles Stadium and set the offensive tone early. Colorado nearly came up with a goal in the 24th minute. Former RSL man Clint Mathis played a perfect pass onto Thiago Martins, who received the ball from 30 yards out with only Garlick to beat. Garlick made a veteran move by cutting off Martins’ space, and Garlick deflected the ball away saving a potential goal. Martins was able to quickly gain possession of the rebound and rifled it into the untended goal. RSL captain Eddie Pope moved to the goal line blocked the attempt just before the ball crossed the goal line.

Even though Colorado couldn’t put a goal away, it made a first-half statement by out-shooting RSL 9-2 with five of those shots on goal.

RSL had only two excellent opportunities to score. In the 74th minute, Atiba Harris found himself on a breakaway after Jafet Soto made a great sliding save to keep a ball from going out of bounds. Soto’s save went right to Andy Williams and Williams was able to play the ball ahead to a sprinting Harris. Harris could not get the shot around goaltender Joe Cannon and Colorado was able to preserve its lead.

In the 85th minute, RSL was able to put a ball in the back of the net when Eddie Pope put away a beautiful pass from the top of the box from Chris Klein. Pope, however, was offside on a borderline call that negated the beautifully orchestrated play.

Game Notes: Jason Kreis was a late scratch from Saturday’s match. He is reported to have a bone bruise on his left knee. Kries was replaced by newcomer Jafet Soto who got his first start with RSL.